A Homer’s Odyssey…

Our apologies for spending such a prolonged period of time with the lotus-eaters instead of keeping you abreast of our fledgling project creating the most expensive wine possible (but not on purpose). Where we left you last we were preparing for the winter of 2013 but without knowing what would truly come. Just as success stared us in the face like Ithaca did Odysseus, so did the wind seek its opportunity to send us off to misadventure. Winter struck not with the soft whisper of a cold breeze but with the sudden fury and sadness of a frustrated transit employee. Howling, cruel wind licked and the freezing temperatures snapped at what was already a makeshift trellis leaving it in an emotional and physical condition shared only by the “Galloping Gertie” of the Tacoma Narrows. In a word? Ruination (tip of the cap). The trellis system lay in shambles like the front lawn of a frat party. The vines while still standing lay bent, misshapen, twisting as though broken. Worse still, the end posts so laboriously dug tented inward from the strain of the ice that coated the lines as though they were trying to complain about our incompetence in clandestine whispers. As we first approached the vineyard in the spring, it took all in us not to exclaim at the top of our lungs “WHY?!?! WHY DIDN’T WE JUST MAKE BEER?!?!”. However, tragedy passes, knuckles are cracked, and in those ember days of spring we could rebuild.

The growing clusters

The growing clusters

 

Rebuilding proved difficult but not impossible, a few rethreading lines, a few holes dug, a few expletives uttered, but all in all an surmountable process. While not the most auspicious start to the year, it began what can only be described as the most bountiful year Table Flip has had in its meager history. It took longer than expected for the vines to wake up from their slumber but considering the rending they suffered over the winter, we allowed them the time to hit the snooze button like a rebellious teen with chores to do on a Sunday. Once they had risen though, they shot forth like a rocket that even von Braun would be proud of. Soon it was not whether they’d survive or not but rather “jeepers, they are way too big” which posed a new problem. Grape clusters require direct sunlight during the growing process in order to ripen properly, meaning that if the vine gets too big and there are too many leaves covering them with shade, then the grapes won’t ripen and they won’t be wine worthy. Diligently but not without sorrow we trimmed them back every week. Yanking at the leaves and piling them up for some imagined funeral pyre. That is… except Napoleon. One vine, with its proverbial tendril jammed in its jacket, watched as the other thrived from the top of the hill. A tiny general, a little imp, a satyr observing from on high. This was not to be Napoleon’s year, he survived the winter but either because of an underground spring close by, or the increased shade in the area, he simply refused to grow like the rest. His time will come, but not today.

 

A heavy harvest

A heavy harvest

When fall finally came and the greens of the landscape turned its thousand shades of brown, it came time for the harvest. In 2013, the harvest was laughable, comical, a folly. Not even the bottom of a single bucket could be covered. This year while we harvested in the torrid October rain there was a bounty, a horde, a reaping on a scale of moderate respectability. What catastrophes of spring we experienced gave way to over 10lbs of fresh fruit ready for wine making. Buckets overflowed, single vines producing enough fruit to fill a bucket on their own. This felt good, it felt like the Demetre turned to us and said “OK, you get one good year… enjoy it” and we did. Despite Napoleon’s sulking we celebrated with red solo cups of sparkling wine and repetitious conversations starting with “Remember when…”. Lastly, to get the vines ready for the winter again we buried them to the knuckle and trimmed them back. We also loosened the cabling this year hoping that less tension would make the winter more survivable. Most importantly of all though, we steeled ourselves for the journey ahead where we prayed not to the harvest but to Bacchus and whatever god controls fermentation. Wine would be made, an entire gallon in fact…. But more on that later.

 

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La vache qui rit

It mocks us...

It mocks us…

It came from the bushes marching with a languidness that makes my enormous cat seem fleet of foot. Its hooves beat the ground like the loneliest drum circle during an “occupy” protest. Yes, we have a cow and it is unwelcome. Like trying to barbeque drunk, it has left patties all over our lawn and driveway. Mysteriously as fast as it comes, it leaves again like an incompetently heavy ninja that only Chris Farley could relate to. In Norse creationist mythology, the cow Auðumbla sustained Ymir while licking the first god Búri free of the ice. Somehow I feel this cow isn’t nearly as important, no this one is just here to defecate and chew bubble gum… but it was all out of gum. Truly it is hardly a threat but rather an annoyance and I’m sure it is getting nothing but satisfaction from this. In fact, last time it brought a couple friends to chew the literal cud.

Look at 'em go.

Look at ‘em go.

The vineyard is excelling though despite bovine influences, some vines towering making us feel as though we are at a carnival as children and not tall enough to ride the coasters. Lush green leaves grasp at the sky and insignificantly small batches of grapes burst like miniature Popeye arms from the bottom of some of our vines. We will make wine this year, not a lot, but some. Growing grapes though has afforded us with new bizarre problems. First and foremost, one of our vines decided not to grow grapes but rather a series of terrifying green sea urchins from what we can only figure is some sort of Lovecraftian alien influence. Looking through the Canadian disease guide for vines leads us to believe it is some kind of mold potentially from too much moisture under the canopy of leaves. Just in case though, we irradiated those grapes, we believe there to be nothing “noble” in this rot. It hasn’t stopped there though, the bottom leaves of our vines have also started to brown, is this seasonal? Lack of water? Potassium deficiency? Open rebellion? We have no idea.

Wylie, proud as a peach

Wylie, proud as a peach

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Kafka’s Mulchamorphosis

progress, bloody progress

progress, bloody progress

We almost burned down the vineyard this weekend, and right after a rainfall no less.  We tried to drill a hole in one of our end posts to install a new guide wire and did so with a zeal normally reserved for crusades and the unexpected coming of an ice-cream man. We prodded, pushed, and screamed the drill through the wood buying slow inch after slow inch. Smoke bled from the blackened hole we were creating spinning in the air with the quiet confidence of a government audit. The progress was painful and even comical until we realized one inescapable truth… the drill was on reverse and bore its way through the wood not through efficient design but through sheer will power and two batteries. The embarrassment was as palpable as the tension you feel when you don’t tip the guy in the washroom who needlessly dispensed soap for you.

so shiny and new...

so shiny and new…

You see we’ve tried to give our vineyard a modernized facelift. This weekend we wanted to replace all of the hardware on our trellis system so it could handle more weight when all the vines start bearing fruit. Of course this involved a bevy of manly tasks from drilling, to hole poking, to awkward sighs of exasperation. Once completed though, the vineyard would look quite keen… but also… kind of slanted (more on this later). We started of course with replacing the ends of each guide wire with a sturdy … thingamagig. This meant clearing out some holes we had previously drilled but misused. Unfortunately for us though, these holes were inhabited by vile, unrelenting pestilence. Earwigs, spiders, and unknown miniaturized shelled beasts vomited and tumbled out of our old holes as we pushed our new hardware through. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Once completed though, the new hardware has made for a much more sturdy trellis system. It has also however given all of our posts a casual lean because of the newfound tension put on the end posts. If other vineyards walked by our leaning and smoking trellis, they would think us to be the cool kids in highschool.

We didn’t stop at hardware though, we finally mulched as well. Twenty bags of cedar mulch were scattered about around the vine rows. If nothing else, the vineyard now smells as glorious as an old cigar box. The mulch serves as a weed deterrent for us, which will save us a mountain of labor later. It further serves to absorb moisture so we will have to water less as well. This is our hope anyways, the Internet tells us things so we do it. If we fail, it won’t be for lack of effort but it could be from our foolish autodidacticism.

Look at those grapes, too bad i must one day crush you

Look at those grapes, too bad i must one day crush you

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The Day of the Triffids

Moody and dark...

Moody and dark…

Through the fog and mists of the cruel wet Ontarian nights, thunder has cracked and lightning streaked the skies, like the insane post-graduate Dr. Frankenstein… we’ve created a monster. What was once an innocent project with humble aspirations and little ambitions for success is now a story of great “terroir” that has us shaking in our boots. For you see, we’ve found our stride this year, as have the vines as they grow exponentially. Last year, any success was simply dashed by deer, incompetence, and unrelenting heat. Even our most successful vines were at best more cute than they were impressive like child trying to dress itself. Oh the difference a year makes. Now the vines burst forth from the earth vigorously climbing anything in their path. Their enormity is eclipsed only by their aimlessness. At first there was pride, now… fear.

Look at em go!

Look at em go!

Ask any athlete or millennial in the workplace, training is hard. It seemed easy at first to guide them to our highest wire and they climbed there anxiously. We never thought for a moment we’d have to have any considerations beyond that. Now they grow beyond their britches, some to over 8ft high… and our higher wire is only six feet. This has left us scratching our heads, what do we do with these quickly growing titans? The gut instinct is to lash them down like Lilliputians to Gulliver and so we did. Every vine was fastened down along to top wire in the same direction so they all appear to be taken by a sudden wind. I guess we’ve done our job well but truly I have no idea. Guessing has made us feel quite the fool stumbling about in the dark. To adapt an old saying, anyone can be passionate about wine but it takes a special breed to be this silly about it.

P.S. Some in the group feel we should curve the vines and spell something out with them.

Left a beer bottle in the vineyard, managed to convince the family it was just a rain guage...

Left a beer bottle in the vineyard, managed to convince the family it was just a rain guage…

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Merde, Il Pleut

We were BORED! What do real vintners do in when frost and a pristine sheet of stolid whiteness cover their crops? I guarantee you it isn’t languishing in squalor and ennui. The first few months were entertaining enough as we planned, plotted, schemed, brainstormed, and ideated how to approach the coming season. That has long since went as sour as being the only sober person at an offensively themed party. We resigned ourselves to watching the grains fall through the metaphorical hourglass, each falling at an annoyingly bureaucratic cadence. I’d rather watch Two and a Half Men. I’m sorry… I didn’t mean that. We’d lost direction, attending local tastings and confronting less than distinguished looking strangers on the subway asking what varietal got them in such a state. What do we do? Where do we go? The guy on the other end of the phone when I order pizza grew sick of hearing about irrigation systems, my bus driver was equally frustrated by my constant mentioning of frost resiliency, and I’m not longer allowed at Target (unrelated).

Many already over 6ft tall!

Many already over 6ft tall!

We needed a beacon, a talisman to clutch and remember what drove us to this lunacy. So far, it’s been some else’s wine, curling (oh yeah, we curl by the way… dreadfully for the most part), and various cured meats. Soon there will be a Herculean amount of work and the Atlas-like weight of boredom will be lifted from our shoulders. The contest previously mentioned did churn up a winner and the little evil voice in my head was thankful that it was a local one. We had entries all over the world and it would have been a harrowing journey for the bottle that would have had to ship to Australia. As much as I love that adorable little prison, I selfishly would hate to send a bottle of wine further around the world than I’ve ever been.

Sorry we’ve been gone for so long, it’s entirely my fault. Apathy is a drug and I was seriously addicted. To recap the past six months, we awaited spring while sinking into our chairs. We’ve had just a bit of rain in Ontario this season (more on this shortly) and it has made for one hell of a season. Tragically however, our absence from the world of blogging has not gone unnoticed. Much like the disappearance of Persephone, Demeter has punished us with an aggressive growing season but no fruit to bear. The good news is every last little vine survived the long winter and wacky untimely spring frosts. The bad news is Demeter laughs while we toil in our field for another year waiting for Godot merlot.

Don your rally caps though, we have a new blogger in town to help carry the load like Herecles was tricked into holding up the sky by Atlas. Below is his first post from when he weeded in a thunderstorm… he lacks a sense of self-preservation. His name is Wylie and he wanted us to use wolves to keep the deer away… enjoy!

 

“Good news: our babies survived the winter! Went up to the vineyard today to do a bit of weeding, and man, have our plants been enjoying the recent rainy weather.  Right now, our babies range from three to about six and a half feet in height and are looking quite healthy. Some netting/mesh that Brendan put up a bit earlier in the season has done a great job of keeping the deer out (no need for wolf pheromones, luckily), although the vines have a tendency to climb the mesh rather than the guide wires.

That said, it looks like the weeds have been enjoying the rain as well. I spent my afternoon in the pouring rain hacking away at thistles, crab grass and Queen Anne’s Lace. The grassy hillside is starting to get awfully close to the top row of vines as well – we may have to pull out the weed whacker next week to beat back the encroaching prairie.

20130707_134700

About an hour and a half into my soggy vineyard visit, Bruce and Linda came back from brunch. Bruce imparted some knowledge to me he’d learned that morning. Apparently, the plants and grass between the rows of vines can be used to manage the amount of moisture in the soil. In wet weather, these plants are left to grow longer to take up some of the water in the soil; when it’s dry, they’re cut back so that the vines have access to more moisture. This fact was definitely in the “news you can use” category for me, since it meant I could avoid the week’s mowing with a clean conscience.

Anyways, I’m off to have a well-deserved bowl of soup and a shower. I’m cold and wet.

DW”

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Accidentally On Purpose

Image

owls are cool.

Contests are the tool of the devil. Generating manufactured interest in a product or service by providing an incentive for the interaction just seems like a bait and switch. So of course, we did one. By did one I mean I needed a platform to try out a piece of software for my real job, so I figured the least dangerous place would be on the measly Table Flip Fan Page where no one would notice. I then proceeded to make it OBVIOUSLY fake by using sassy lingo, not updating the terms and conditions, and providing an ambiguous prize namely a “bottle of wine”. Well the fates have a funny way of spinning thread, people actually entered. Not just people, but strangers. This put us in a funny position, what was once just a test to see if a piece of software worked now has an obligation to see it through. In essence, I now have to buy a drink for a stranger. I’m not so good at that. I have a long track record of bar housed failures and awkward “what are you doing?” moments. This is bound to go just as well. So enter if you choose, I promise to send you a bottle of wine if you win and the laws of your governing region allow it. In for a penny, in for a pound I guess.

On a side note, we’re trying our first wine from Uruguay tonight: Las Brujas (translates to “The Witches” but don’t confuse the Roald Dahl novel for youths). It has an owl on it, I like it already. It has… large tannins. Chalk on the nose and black licorice smacks you as though you were an insubordinate child in the 40s. It also smells like Bic pens and tastes like “some kind of berry”, we’re very specific and talented tasters obviously.

Oh right the contest, click here I guess.

http://on.fb.me/14GFqWK

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Harts of Darkness

It appears our ruse de guerre in the form of a ramshackle fence is holding the deer at bay. Scattered footprints have littered the ground up to the fence lines, but while most of the prints seem just curious proddings, no attack has been mounted… yet. We must prepare our defenses though; the coming season will present a field of “soft targets” for the deer, as our vines shall burst through the ground with vigor previously unknown. A new season should produce a much better result with our growing but still meager competence. Hopes have run high while we drown in our competitor’s far superior potables. Grandiose plans have been laid out to make this season a success, some involved celebrity sponsorship, dignified sign holding, or reciting now defunct beat poetry. None however can even hold a candle for what we have in store for our “deer friends”.

Enough with deadwood parapets, I’ve had it up to here *gestures madly* with twine. Two words shall strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, Split. Rail. Hammer, nails, shovels, and picks shall turn our peaceful ground into a no man’s land. They will speak only in hush whispers (deers can whisper, right?) of the towering wood ramparts. Two and a half feet down we will dig every post and eight inch vicious looking spikes shall bind it together. My Pater Familius has offered his services on the project to, and I quote, “make sure it ends up being a square”. Obviously a knock on the previous levels of quality we’ve been able to achieve.  Here’s hoping we create something that “doesn’t make [him] gouge his eyes out”. Will split rail be enough? Doubtful, so we must also utilize two of my favorite words (when spoken individually): chicken wire. The bane of every paper mache artist’s existence and hopefully a hatred also shared by smaller more feisty pests like rabbits, gophers, or tiny solicitors. We will fasten it to cover everything below the bottom rungs of the fence sealing it off. There will be no tiny solicitors, not on my watch.

This endeavor may end up being the most expensive undertaking of the project so far, but spite is the most powerful motivator… and I love spite.

Example!!

Example!!

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“What do you mean it’s not called a ‘missile toe’?”

It’s the holiday season at Table Flip, a time of reflection, idiocy, and wine we didn’t make. We’ve had a good year, all things considered. For the cost of only a couple thousand dollars, we’ve managed to create something of little substance with an enormous investment of time. While scouring the Internet, we found an old Latin proverb that we’ve adopted for ourselves and it seems most fitting: “parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus” which roughly translates tomountains will be in labour, and an ridiculous mouse will be born”. In essence, it means we’ve put in a lot of work and the result will be ridiculous. That being said, I think its time we thanked those who have helped us so far for all they have done to make something so silly so possible. Without these people, this would have remained another dead idea in the elephant graveyard of empty promises that is the result of most nights of heavy drinking.

To my Father and Step-Mother: Thanks for letting us tear up your property with a vigor normally reserved for the fifteen seconds of excitement you get when you first hear the ice cream truck before realizing you don’t want ice cream. Sorry we keep breaking tools, I swear its not on purpose although I realize that seems hard to believe.

To my Mother, Betty Anne, and Grandmother: Thanks for your support, but you know this is a bad idea right?

To Chris: Thank you for keeping an even keel while I vomited ideas at you like when you open an old closet forgetting you’ve rammed it full of refuse.

To Wylie: Thanks for getting ants up your pants, no really. I will cherish the memory forever.

To Jen: Thanks for being just insane enough to talk to the plants, you’re a nut bar you know that right?

To Jane:  Thanks for bringing that big red rock-pounding tool, there’s just no good way to say that.

To Alex: Thanks for letting us ruin your car by filling the trunk with topsoil. I’d like to say it’s not the silliest thing we did to that car, but I’d be lying.

To Marnie, Ben, Terri-Lynn, Derek, Sian (day-labourers): Thanks for taking a day out of your lives so we can relive the indentured servitude of yesteryear.

To the deer: Despite your vial, despicable, and devilish nature, you ignored the vineyard entirely since we’ve erected that awful fence (see picture below). You even ignored the gaping 12 ft entrance we allowed to exist. I swear next year we will build a real fence, one that you can be proud to say “[expletive deleted] that noise! I am not going trying to cross that thing!” For you, I tribute a lovely video by Louis CK, you’re welcome.

IMG_4384

To the ants: Thanks for quietly evicting yourself. I didn’t have a printer to print out the notice myself.

See you in 2013 people of the Internet, I swear we’ll have more positive things to write about, but then again where’s humor without failure?

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There and Back Again

It never hurts to go back to the beginning, to your inspiration, to where your ideas were strictly embryonic and that voice in the back of your head is still winning the fight of “don’t do it!” Six months ago, we were in Niagara On The Lake testing the libations of various wineries until we could barely feel shame. We had fallen in love with wine, an ancient siren song luring us towards the rocks. With each stop on our tour we felt ourselves drift further from reality, the bills at home, the hungry and angry cat (that insists that my entire apartment is its toilet), and the balance of our diminishing bank accounts. It was on this ground that we had decided that a vineyard was a swell idea. We figured we couldn’t be the worst at it so what could possibly hold us back? Well here we were again on yet another tour of duty of Niagara On The Lake’s wineries, hoping to catch that spirit that inspired us so long ago.

Instead we got mighty drunk.

With three sheets to the wind and the soul of Atalanta in our feet, we thought it would be a great idea to make it a race against ourselves to ensure that we hit every winery that had any signs of life. The festival again had a food pairing to go with a wine sample at each facility, some were paired beautifully so that the flavor of the wine altered, others felt as discombobulating as a Tom Bombadil segue. Ravine for example, had ribs from pigs raised on their own property. To quote the woman describing them “you can really taste the love we put in the pigs”, you know, before they were put to death for our tasting. They had paired it with… something, a wine probably, but we were too distracted by the ribs to notice. Others got a little more creative; Inniskillin paired a Vidal ice wine with sweet chili Thai chicken wings, it was a surprisingly opulent but nifty combination. The nicest surprise of the day was the discovery of a room entirely devoted to back vintage Baco Noir down at Henry of Pelham. We got away relatively easy buying only the 1999, 2003 (which had turned, womp womp), and the 2005.When the dust eventually settled and the wine purchases were tallied, we probably spent more on the weekend buying wine than trying to produce our own. This isn’t to say that making your own is frugal, but rather a testament to our lack of impulse control.

Oh yeah, and we bought chickens. An entire brood of chickens.

This is right after we all spent 30 seconds petting Jennifer's face for no reason.

This is right after we all spent 30 seconds petting Jennifer’s face for no reason.

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“I’m sorry, you’ve been outsourced”

Plenty of themes have run rampant for us this season: broken tools on the scale of Sodom and Gomorrah (I had to look up the spelling), two of the seven plagues of Egypt (one was deer right?), and an ever increasing feeling of David and Goliath (OK! OK! I know nothing of theology, geeze!). Above all though, torpidity has reigned supreme. What started as a land rush of excitement and laughter has diluted slowly into the drudgery that apparently is real gardening. It’s obvious that none of us are botanists or horticulturalists. In fact, the closest thing we have to a green thumb is fumbling with dyed beer on St. Patrick’s Day. It hasn’t crushed our spirits, but it certainly has stymied our fervor. As winter approached, we found that none of us had the will to “finish the job” so to speak and bury the vines. As we stared at one another across the table made geometric by a series of red rings from sloppy drinking and a lack of coasters, we made a solemn decision: to outsource the hell out of our problems.

Cue the deus ex machina…

We paid a local gardener to solve our woes and bury the vines for the winter. The cost was a pittance and the peace of mind was beyond value. The biggest challenge though, is how to tell people that we effectively “outsourced” the work on a backyard vineyard without sounding like stuck up dolts. The answer is its impossible, even when you consider it cost us less to have them do it than to do it ourselves. I fear we’ve crossed a line from humble to pretentious all for the sake of not wanting to do a little hard labor. This is a far cry from the weekend before when we invaded the vineyard like Visigoths. I’m told there’s still a field scarred by the wood chips of our thousand futile axe swings. So I guess we’ll just have to accept coming off as yuppies even as I write this from a 400 sq. ft. apartment. Drat.

 

Jane said they look like little graves… gulp

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